I get it: the government shutdown is about politics. This should surprise no one. We are living in a very turbulent time, politically. Government is divided, as is the body politic. This reflects fundamentally different views between the two parties about the role of government, the economy in the 21st Century, liberty and fairness. It also is a function of the way the Founding Fathers intended government to work. So the notion that Congress should operate like an assembly line, spitting out budgets and laws without debate, disagreement, disputes and even a degree of paralysis is just ridiculous.
Nevertheless, there should be limits. One of these is to not draw the U.S. military into the political process. It is wrong on so many levels. It is also dangerous. Jefferson, Madison and “the boys” understood what could happen if the military was brought into the domestic political space. This is why the President is Commander-in-Chief but Congress is solely empowered to declare war, provide for the common defense and raise and support armies and navies. It also is why there is a second and third amendment to the Constitution, both intended to limit the domestic role of the military. The size and composition of the military, its uses abroad and even whether or not war should be declared before any significant employment of that military are all fit subjects for debate and disagreement. But the military should not be used by those in government as a means for advancing a particular domestic political agenda.
So when President Obama uses his position as Commander-in-Chief to make unabashedly partisan political statements, he needs to be called on his behavior. In his video message yesterday to the military regarding the government shutdown, President Obama went well beyond his prerogatives. He used the opportunity to take potshots at the Legislative branch. At one point he made the gratuitous comment that “Unfortunately, Congress has not fulfilled its responsibility. It has failed to pass a budget.” Even worse, he went on later to tell the men and women in uniform that “You and your families deserve better than the dysfunction we’re seeing in Congress.”
Such comments have the effect of setting the interests of the military against those of their political leaders, or at least the Republicans in Congress. They imply that the Congress is unworthy of the military’s respect. It virtually begs the military to become actors in the political system, pressuring one side in order to achieve their own self-interests (which in this case the President suggests are coincident with his own). This is a very dangerous road to go down when it involves an entity charged with protecting and defending the Constitution.
Could not the same thing be said of the President and his administration with respect to their dithering and seeming confusion around the threat to strike Syria? What if members of Congress were to make White House dysfunction in national security matters a subject of public commentary directed at the Armed Forces? Or if members of the House or Senate Armed Services Committees were to inquire of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in open hearings how they felt about working for a dysfunctional Commander-in-Chief?
I suppose it is natural for the President to seek to lay blame for the dysfunction in Washington at someone else’s door. However, he seems to need a reminder that it was his idea to hold defense spending hostage to the 2011 Budget Control Act which cuts defense spending by $1 trillion. The White House could not (or would not) cut a deal with Republicans to prevent the Act from taking effect. That too is dysfunction. This is the same military he now wants to send against Syria and which he proclaims “doesn’t do pin pricks.” But that may be all it will be capable of if your budget cuts remain in effect, Mr. President.
President Obama’s remarks are crassly political and self-serving. They are unworthy of the Commander-in-Chief.
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